He bought a
succession of splendid automobiles, in which he got into trouble regularly. He
ignored traffic signals and speed limits when he drove from the Ansonia to the
ball park and was often stopped by the police. More often than not, the cop,
impressed with his catch, would chat for a few moments, issue a jovial warning
and send Ruth on his way. On June 8, 1921 Ruth was racing along Riverside Drive
in his maroon sports car when he was stopped for the second time in little more
than a month. The cop took him directly to traffic court. Ruth did not protest,
except when the policeman, obviously not a baseball fan, said he did not
believe he was really Babe Ruth. In court the magistrate fined him $100, which
Babe paid by whipping a hundred off the top of the roll in his pocket. The
magistrate also sentenced him to a day in jail. The court attendants, finding
this all very amusing, escorted Ruth to the Mulberry Street jail in downtown
Manhattan. They explained that the Babe would not have to serve 24 hours. A
"day" ended at four p.m., and one-day prisoners brought in during the
morning were released at that hour in the afternoon. Since the ball game did
not start until 3:15, that meant Ruth would be able to make part of it. He
phoned the ball park, had his uniform brought to the jail, put it on in his
cell and put on his street suit, an impressive dove-colored cutaway, over it.
His car was parked at the jail's exit. He told a cellmate, "I'm going to
have to go like hell to get to the game. Keeping you late like this makes you
into a speeder."
The cops basked
in the glow of their famous visitor's presence, and the word spread around.
Hundreds of people gathered outside. A photographer on a fire escape across the
street tried to get Ruth's picture behind bars, but without success. At four
o'clock the crowds were pushed back, and a phalanx of police led Babe through
the basement and out to his car. A motorcycle escort led him uptown. The trip
from downtown Manhattan to the Polo Grounds, nine miles through New York
traffic, was made in 18 minutes. Babe stripped off his suit in the car and came
through the gate in center field in uniform to a huge ovation. The Yankees were
losing 3-2 when he arrived, and while Ruth did nothing at bat himself the club
rallied to win 4-3.
Ruth enjoyed the
vulgar humor of dugout and clubhouse even when he was the butt of it. As the
ultimate riposte in some broad horseplay, his old friend Mike McNally, another
of those who came from the Red Sox to the Yankees, put manure in a hard straw
hat belonging to Ruth, and when the Babe breezily donned the hat the manure
spilled down over his head and shoulders. Half furious, half laughing at the
indignity, Ruth cleaned himself off, mopped his clothes and hurried to join
Helen at a New York courthouse, where he was involved in a minor lawsuit.
People usually crowded around him, but now he noticed they were sidling away.
Suddenly, his big nostrils sniffed, and his face reddened. Abruptly, he settled
the case, grabbed Helen and said, "Let's get out of here." Oldtimers
say he never wore a hard straw hat or anything but a cap after that.
In July 1920 Ruth
took his auto, a big four-door touring sedan, on a Yankee road trip to
Philadelphia and Washington. When the games in Washington were over, Ruth
started driving back to New York with Helen, a rookie outfielder named Frank
Gleich, a second-string catcher named Fred Hofmann and Charley O'Leary, an old
infielder who was now a coach under Huggins. Such company was typical for Ruth,
whose varying friends over the years were often rookies or fringe members of
The trip was a
jolly one, with songs, much laughter and occasional stops for sips of bootleg
liquor. Babe was driving, which he did with �lan and exuberance and not too
much attention to the minor vagaries of the road. The narrow highway weaved and
curved its way into Pennsylvania. It was night, perhaps two in the morning, and
Ruth was singing at the wheel. He was always unduly impressed by the musical
quality of his rich bass voice, and he was really letting it all out in the
soft summer night. Just outside the hamlet of Wawa, near Philadelphia, the road
curved sharply. Babe was driving much too fast and could not make the curve. He
hit the brakes, the car skidded, spun off the road and turned over. O'Leary and
Helen were thrown from the car, Helen onto relatively soft dirt at the side of
the road, O'Leary onto its hard surface.
Ruth squirmed out
of the wreckage. Gleich and Hofmann were O.K. Helen was bruised, her stockings
almost torn off, but she was not otherwise hurt. O'Leary, lying on his back in
the middle of the road, appeared to be unconscious, possibly dead. Ruth,
stricken with fear and remorse, ran to him and fell on his knees.
God," he cried. "Oh, my God. Oh, God, bring Charley back. Don't take
him. I didn't mean it."
O'Leary's head, and Charley's eyes opened.
"Speak to me,
Charley. Speak to me."